This is an apology to Rosemary Norwood and those within the autism community that I’ve offended. But because such an apology would be meaningless in 140 characters, I’ve moved from Twitter to my blog. What follows might also stand as a cautionary tale to others new to Twitter conversations.
My problems started when I watched an ABC AusAttitude documentary on autism. The show featured Rosalind and her artistic son, Claude. In addition to being a mum, Rosalind is also a neurologist and doctor who has spent her professional career engaged in scientific research about her son’s condition. The show told something of Claude’s condition and family life, and also featured Rosalind explaining some of her research and complex neurological challenge of finding a “cure.”
While watching I was committing the cardinal sin of digital multitasking – my phone was open on my lap, and I made the Twitter comment:
Stunningly interesting @Ausattitude on autism. Love the relationship between annabel and Claude, autistic brother.
I thought nothing more of this. After all, I have virtually no Twitter followers, and I can’t think of a single instance when any of my tweets have received a response. I was thus surprised to receive the following replies from @RosemaryNorwood :
the only good thing about the episode. Annabelle was the only person who seemed to unreservedly value Claude.
There followed a series of Rosemary’s observations about the show, including the following:
@scliffo @Ausattitude Think she got the idea that he has no internal life and no ability to feel family links or emotions from thin air?
@scliffo @Ausattitude Annabelle also unfortunately repeated “We think he might just see us as tools, to get what he wants”.
@scliffo @Ausattitude “I’m the doctor telling this family you’ve got this problem.” We’re not problems, either.
@scliffo @Ausattitude “There’s lots wrong with the hardware and software of autistics.” We’re different not wrong
Rosemary’s concern was that Claude was being spoken about, and treated as a medical problem rather than valued as a unique person. A much wiser person than me would have kept quiet at this point. After all, what do I know about autism. But I ignored my own rule (which is that you should always sleep before hitting send on contentious emails – or tweets), and went to the defence of Rosalind
@RosemaryNorwood seems a harsh and unfair judgement on her parents.
@RosemaryNorwood she was a medical research, so gave technical info. But she clearly displayed her love.
Of course, I would stand behind the truth of the statements, but repent tweeting them. Further on in the back and forward discussion, Rosemary criticised the program for showing a parent (not Rosalind this time) dragging a child across the floor. I flippantly responded “you’ve never been a parent, then” – on the basis that most parents would be guilty of dragging children at one time or another. Geez, this may be true, but what sort of an idiot says it? In all of this discussion, Rosemary wasn’t really disputing Rosalind’s love for Claude, but the ways in which she felt the documentary medicalised autism as a problem to be fixed, rather than showing Claude to be a uniquely beautiful and interesting person. Her concern was also that the program failed to show clearly the range of autistic experiences, and the unique contribution of autistic people to families and broader society.
Whether or not her criticism of the program is fair is for others to decide. Attitude Australia has responded to the criticisms of the episode (http://attitudelive.com/blog/tanya-black/editorial-response-unlocking-autism). I do appreciate the work of attitude Australia, and value their documentaries. I would encourage people to watch this one, keeping Rosemary’s comments in the back of their mind as they do.
I was particularly challenged by one of Rosemary’s concluding comments to me:
@scliffo @Ausattitude I would disagree. Perhaps you need to listen to some ASD voices to understand why.
Fair call. I’ve now tried to do so. And I’m sorry that my comments added to your anxiety in watching the show.